Season of liberation raises questions of solidarity against modern oppression

     Crystal Lopez, who works at a Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins and says it's impossible to support her sick mother and 11 year-old brother on a minimum wage salary, is shown at a protest outside of a Center City Philadelphia McDonald's demonstrating for a $15/hour minimum wage. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Crystal Lopez, who works at a Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins and says it's impossible to support her sick mother and 11 year-old brother on a minimum wage salary, is shown at a protest outside of a Center City Philadelphia McDonald's demonstrating for a $15/hour minimum wage. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Every year Jewish people Pharaoh’s oppression and God’s willful hand that brought us out of Egypt and liberated us. We more than most ought to know when it is time to stand up and say no to enslavement and yes to freedom, no to poverty and yes to living.

    Every year Jewish people sit together and retell the story of the great exodus from Egypt. We recount Pharaoh’s oppression and God’s willful hand that brought us out of Egypt and liberated us. We sing songs, eat food, and for moments try to access our ancestral reality and connect to our past selves in bondage. 

    Each year we renew this practice of ancestral empathy, we want to feel the pain and tears of Hebrew slaves, to feel the hardened heart of Pharaoh, to feel jubilation and joy when we too reach the other side of the parted sea as our oppressors are washed into the abyss.

    The exodus story is the birth of the Hebrew nation, emerging a united people from the narrow place of the Red Sea. (Yeah, the Red Sea is a birth canal. Deal with it.) As a Jewish nation we always remember that we were once strangers in a strange land, and we too were once enslaved and oppressed.

    A new enslavement, a new genocide

    Can we really remember how it felt to be enslaved by Pharaoh and forced to work long hard hours with no pay? Then can we as a people stand in solidarity with workers forced into long, hard hours for starvation wages, unable to afford a home, healthcare, or education?

    Fast-food workers and low-wage workers across the country have been fighting for their own liberation, engaged in a battle for fair wages and the right to form a union. The Fight for $15 and 15 Now campaigns in Philadelphia have been on the front lines against wage slavery, unsafe working conditions, and exploitation by big corporations such as McDonalds and Walmart. On April 15, workers, students, and activists are calling a one-day strike to demand $15/hour and a union for all workers. Will you be there?

    Can we remember that Pharaoh ordered the death of every Hebrew first-born so the Hebrews could not gain influence and overpower him? Can we remember what it might feel like to lose your first-born? And then can we see today the hundreds of black men and women killed by police and vigilantes, and the thousands of black people locked up in prison for nonviolent crimes. Is this not the death of a people, entrapped within concrete walls and steel bars? Is this not Egyptian slavery?

    Can we march out into the streets with our black brothers and sisters who are fighting against police brutality in their own communities and for their own lives, at risk only because of the color of their skin? Can we understand that not too long ago, we too were murdered because of our ethnicity? In this understanding we must reach out towards our fellow men and women and link arms together in the struggle for freedom and dignity for all people.

    Black lives matter

    We have instilled in ourselves deep ancestral memories of enslavement, violence, discrimination, and oppression. We more than most ought to know when it is time to stand up and say no. Say no to enslavement and yes to freedom. Say no to poverty and yes to living. In our homes, at our Passover Seders, on the streets, in the courts, at the voting booth, we must use our voices, our bodies, our dollars, to say that black lives matter.

    Today more than ever, we need solidarity. We need people like us — middle-class privileged white people like us — to care. Can we remember our oppression and slavery, truly, and see today the Pharaohs of the world, who continue to rule the earth and pillage and destroy people and our planet?

    In this the season of our liberation, may you look into yourself and examine your own privilege and place in society. May you feel empathy for our ancestors enslaved in Egypt, and may you feel empathy for people today still weighed down by the yoke of oppression. May you stand up and say to Pharaoh, “Let our people go.”

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